Cow Parsley – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Cow Parsley displays characteristic rows of ‘white lace’ along roadside verges in spring and was once used in food and medicine.

However, a danger of using this plant as a wild edible is its close resemblance to hemlock (Conium maculatum), a far deadlier species – poisonous and not to be used in food or medicine.

Scientific Name

Anthriscus sylvestris

Family

Apiaceae

Botanical Description of Cow Parsley

Small, white flowers appear in umbrella-like clusters upon tall, slightly hair, hollow stems. The large, pale green to reddish leaves are slightly downy. The unripe fruits are green and turn brown to reddish as they ripen. Thick roots reach up to 2m beneath the earth allowing this plant to spread far and wide. 

Status

Native to Europe, north Asia, north and east Africa, India subcontinent; naturalised in North America, Alaska, Canada, New Zealand, and central and southern Africa.

Habitat and Distribution

Cow Parsley is found growing along roadsides, hedgerows, waste places, woodlands, and meadows, forests.

Poisonous Lookalikes

Parts Used for Food

Leaves, stems and roots.

Harvest Time

A perennial, flowering April to June.

Food Uses of Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley is closely related to chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) with a mildly spicy flavour. The leaves can be used fresh, dried or preserved in salt for future use. The plant makes an excellent garnish in place of chervil for salads, potatoes and egg dishes. Fresh or dried Cow Parsley can be sprinkled as seasoning in soups, omelettes, casseroles, potato and bean dishes. The young leaves can be cooked as a potherb and the roots are also edible.

Nutritional Profile of Cow Parsley

Research suggests that Cow Parsley demonstrates strong antioxidant activity and could have potential as a future health food or supplement.

Cow Parsley Recipes

Herbal Medicine Uses of Cow Parsley

Thanks to its poisonous lookalikes, Cow Parsley was seldom used as a medicinal plant. When it was used as a remedy, this was often for kidney or urinary stones.

Other Uses

The plant’s hollow stems were once used as moulds to make candles for the poor.

Safety Note

The roots contain toxic compounds that could be dangerous if taken during pregnancy, when breastfeeding, or when used for specific complaints in certain sensitive individuals. Seek medical advice before use.

I will state again as it is of the utmost importance, the greatest danger of using Cow Parsley as a wild edible is its close resemblance to deadly hemlock.

Do not pick Hemlock by mistake – the consequences could be dire! Make sure you know how to identify your wild edibles.

Illustrations

Cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris
Köhler, F.E. (1898)
Cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris
Oeder, G.C. (1883)

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References